Publishing Industry Market Update; Vol. 2, Issue 3

Welcome back to our latest issue of the Yates & Yates Author Coaching monthly newsletter providing a brief update of the current state of the book publishing industry. As always, feel free to share.

“So long,,” said Jeff Bezos

Well, sort of. At least “so long” to the position of CEO. Founder, leading shareholder, and CEO, Jeff Bezos, announced he will step down from the chief executive role of the e-commerce giant at some point in the 3rd quarter of 2021. He won’t be going far. He will remain Chairman of the Board, as AWS head, Andy Jassy, takes over the day-to-day.

This announcement came alongside financial results bigger than a government stimulus package. In the clearest indication that pandemics aren’t bad for everyone, Amazon reported massive gains during the year of our collective discontent: Q4 sales were up 44% year-over-year, and total annual sales finished up 38%. As if it couldn’t get any rosier, Amazon’s net income exploded 84% to $21.3 billion.

Good luck hitting those numbers next year, Andy.

Final Annual Numbers (I promise)

With the last quarter of 2020 sufficiently in the past to allow the CFOs and their accounting departments to file their SEC-assigned homework, we now can put 2020 to bed—and with a pretty good bedtime story. The Association of American Publishers (AAP) reported that 2020 revenues cleared 2019 by $739 million, a 10.2% increase, with December holding its own—up 9.6% (or $65 million) from the prior year.

Bookstores ended their year of infamy with sales down a brutal 28.3%—a life-threatening drop for a lot of undercapitalized independents and cash-strapped chains. The massive hits from the lockdowns of the Spring (74.2% in April alone) were too much to absorb. Hang in there, gang, we are rooting for you…or we might see an Amazon Fresh in every shuttered Barnes & Noble (remember you got the idea here, Andy!).

Big 4 Q4 Round-Up, In No Particular Order  (Yes, we know it’s the Big 5, but MacMillan’s parent is privately held, so they don’t have to do any homework):

  1. HarperCollins (reported by parent company News Corp.): HC had a historic Q4, reporting revenue up 23%, with Q3 and Q4 combining for a 56% increase in profits from the prior year.
  2. Simon & Schuster (reported by parent-for-the-time-being ViacomCBS): S&S finished their best quarter and year EVER, with Q4 up 11%. Good news for Penguin Random House, who is feeling a lot better about the wild bidding war for S&S that they won over HC last year (pending FTC approval—which this record year may not be helping).
  3. PRH: Perhaps due to their hands being full with the Feds, I don’t have any final 2020 numbers yet for the 800-Pound Gorilla, but let’s just rest assured that they’re not bouncing any of the big checks they keep cutting to buy up competitors.
  4. Hachette Book Group (from French parent Lagardere/Hachette Livre): HBG ended 2020 with a modest, but could-be-worse 3.9% increase in revenue, which wasn’t enough to offset the European and Spanish language cousins, who dragged global revenue down .4% from pre-pandemic 2019 results.

Worth noting, all is not rosy with publishers in the second tier and below. Most notably, HMH is in big trouble, with their bell-weather education business taking COVID-19 in the gym shorts. Q4 and 2020 annual sales were down 16% and 39%, respectively. They continue to shop their remaining profit-center, the trade book division, which had an increase of more than 17% in Q4 sales over 2019. Keep an eye out for that Gorilla.

Onward and Upward

2021 continues its fast start. I’ll go ahead and report the print book sales numbers for the first three full weeks of February 2021 compared to the pre-pandemic months of 2020 (remember how cute those were?). But starting next month, those are gonna be absurd comparisons:

Week ended Feb. 6, 2020: up 22.1%

Week ended Feb. 13, 2020: up 21.3%

Week ended Feb. 22, 2020: up 10.9%

Keep up the good work, Publishing Industry…and be careful out there.

[Yes, we did end with a Hill Street Blues quote, but we don’t feel good about it—we were bumping up against press time]

In Case You Missed It….  Be sure to catch the replay of our free webinar, 5 Essential Dos and Don’ts to Getting Your Book Published.  You’ll learn:

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  •  The motivation and encouragement you need to finally write that book and get it published
  • How to overcome rejection and persevere, and much more!


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